ECG Sudarshan (86) The Iddli Man, writes AJ Philip

ECG Sudarshan (86) The Iddli Man, writes AJ Philip

A J Philip is a senior journalist and columnist. He has held high editorial posts in The Tribune, the Indian Express and the Hindustan Times. He writes regularly for the Indian Currents, the Oman Tribune and the New Indian Express.

Iddli was, is and will be one of my favourite dishes. Combined with sambar and coconut chutney, it can compete with any breakfast anywhere in the world for its simplicity, easy digestibility, nutritional value and taste.
This being the case, I was simply fascinated by the subject of the lecture, “Thermodynamics of Iddli”.
The lecture was organised by the Physics Department of St. Thomas College, Kozhencherry, where I was a student during the 1970-73 period.
Prof PJ Kurien, now Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, was in the Physics faculty at that time.
My subject was English literature. So it was not compulsory for me to attend the lecture. Yet, some of us attended the lecture because of the subject.
Another attraction was the name of the speaker, Dr Ennackal Chandy George Sudarshan (86), more popularly known as Dr ECG Sudarshan.
At that time we did not know his full name. Someone said it was he who invented the electrocardiogram (ECG) machine.
No, Sudarshan had nothing to do with ECG. He was a Physicist. We were told that he was slated to get the Nobel Prize.
Until then, the only Indian to win a Nobel for Physics was Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, or CV Raman as he was better known.
He won the Nobel in 1930 “for his work on the scattering of light and for the discovery of the effect named after him”.
It is known as the “Raman Effect” – the phenomenon of change in wavelength in light rays that are deflected – a milestone in the understanding of Physics.
We were told that Dr Sudarshan had found something wrong with Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity that expresses the fact that mass and energy are the same physical entity and can be changed into each other.
I remember the theory by the equation E=MC2.
It was difficult for me to believe that the humble-looking Dr Sudarshan, who spoke English with a Malayali accent, was able to find fault with Einstein’s theory.
Year after year, when the Nobel prizes were announced, I would check whether Dr Sudarshan was among the winners. He never got it.
Nonetheless, I was a little happy when Dr Abdus Salam, an alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University, got the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979. He had become a Pakistani by then.
Years later, I became happier when I could hold Dr Salam’s Nobel medal in my hand for a minute or so. I touched another Nobel medal, about which I would write later.
That was when BBC correspondent in India Mark Tully and I visited the AMU Library while we were there as guests of the university.
The Librarian showed us the medal with great pride. The medal, wrapped in a green velvet cloth, was kept in a safe. He even persuaded us to take it in our hand. How the medal reached AMU is an interesting story.
Dr Salam should have become a hero in Pakistan after he won the medal. He was the first Pakistani and first Muslim to get such a prize. Instead, he was treated like a pariah. Why? Because he was an Ahmadiyya. Pakistan’s parliament declared Ahmadiyyas as non-Muslims. They are the most persecuted group in Pakistan, which means the “Land of the Pure”.
It was in protest against it that he donated the medal to AMU, where he studied physics first.
Another Physicist from India Subrahmanyan Chandrashekhar won the Nobel in 1983. However, Sudarshan could not make it. Though he lived mostly in the US, he spent a few years in the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru and the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai.
Dr Sudarshan married a Tamil lady and they have three children, all of whom are in the US.
In the death of Sudarshan at Texas in the US this morning, we have lost a great scientist, who could have been second only to CV Raman.
I began with a reference to his lecture on the “Thermodynamics of Iddli”. I listened to him but did not understand anything. There was no iddli or sambar. It was pure Physics, which a literature student like me could not understand.
After the lecture, when we returned to the class, our teacher, the late George M Philip, asked us what we understood from his talk. When we told him that it was too scientific for us to understand, he laughed at us.
Then one of my classmates, Shri Sunny Varughese, asked the teacher what he understood from the lecture.
Answered GMP, as we called him affectionately: “When Iddli is prepared, steam comes out. You know that is thermodynamics…” From his explanation, it was clear that he did not understand anything at all. When he completed his explanation, we all laughed. He looked sheepish for a while.
Alas, GMP did not live for long. He died in a motorcycle accident.
Many years later, when the first GMP Memorial Lecture was delivered by Marxist leader EMS Namboodiripad at Kozhencherry, I purposely wrote an editorial in the Indian Express on the lecture. My only aim was to mention the name of George M Philip in the editorial.
It was my own tribute to GMP, who was one of my favourite teachers. That was, perhaps, the only time I used the editorial column for a personal purpose.
How I wish the Iddli man had won the Nobel. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
ajphilip@gmail.com/

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